Beyond Creating Future Leaders: Learning to operate like a School of Fish




Designing a compelling brand narrative and unifying Ashoka Changemaker Schools’ global identity. 


A fresh take to defining leadership. Learning from a school of fish. A holistic storyline unifying Ashoka Changemaker Schools from across the world.


Nourishing Schools Foundation develops young changemakers aged between 9-14 years who can take charge of improving their own and their communities’ nutrition. They do this with the help of the Nourishing Schools toolkit. Over two cycles of using the toolkit, children solve problems in their schools and communities related to health, nutrition and sanitation.


Ashoka is an international organisation that promotes social entrepreneurship. Through Changemakers it aims to build a global movement where anyone, anywhere can take action to solve a social problem in the community. Ashoka, a pioneer in the field of social entrepreneurship, was Founded in 1980 and it works with social entrepreneurs or individuals with innovative solutions to the society’s most pressing problems. One of Ashoka’s many programs is Ashoka Changemaker Schools, an endeavour to enable all students to become changemakers. In these changemaker schools (across the world), students are taught the essential skills of empathy, creativity, leadership and teamwork so that they can find solutions to the most complex of societal problems. Ashoka Changemaker Schools are identified and selected through a meticulous process and through the years Ashoka has fostered more than 1,300 Ashoka Fellows globally and supported more than 375,000 young people who are practising changemaking in 50 countries. 

One of the key challenges through this journey was creating and maintaining a unique identity for the various schools that are a part of Ashoka’s Changemaker program. Each of these schools had their own brand and when they came under the umbrella of changemakers, integrating and identifying them as part of the Ashoka umbrella, while imperative, became a challenge. Further, each country where this program ran, had their own interpretation of the larger brand and created their own version of the Changemakers logo and collateral, which was a huge impediment for the larger cause and brand of Ashoka. It was then that the team of Ashoka Changemaker Schools in India, reached out to  Headless Hippies, a creative agency that helps brands make friends with people. 

While the challenge posed to Headless Hippies was of unification of the brand identity for Ashoka Schools in India, what followed was a unique take on leadership/ being a changemaker, a global identity adopted by Latin America, India, USA and other schools and some revelations for the leadership team at Ashoka itself. 

Design Scope
1) Translate this idea through its brand identity, rebrand Changemaker Schools.
2) Present a compelling narrative that helps the stakeholders communicate the idea of Changemaker schools.

Since the brief had multiple steps, here is how HH went through the process. Let us dive into each step.



Headless Hippies presented a concept to the team in India, which got them excited. What followed was that the leadership teams at various international locations came together to a) listen to the story b) dissect it c) possibly adopt  it. Headless Hippies went back to the drawing board to start from scratch. It was not enough to only present their side of the story. Now that they had the attention of various leaders, it was important to listen to them first. Hence, they moderated a focus group, followed by a survey to understand what the term ‘changemaker’ meant to each of the Ashoka leaders who represented the Changemaker schools in their geography. The results were telling – exactly 50% seemed to agree that the primary raison d’etre of the Changemaker schools was to nurture empathy and create future leaders. The phrase they all unanimously zeroed in on was ‘transformation through education’. 

This helped Headless Hippies put together the pieces to unify the whole. In this case, literally. It is important to also point out that just rebranding for a school is not enough for it to attract students. Its methodology and ideology and inherent purpose has to be communicated as minimally and compellingly as possible. Especially for a concept like social entrepreneurship. 

STEP 2: Rebranding “Changemaker Schools”

While the foundation of Ashoka’s Changemaker program is to foster multiple leaders, in reality, we are used to centralisation of power. Therefore, the path towards finding inspiration was not linear. Multiple facets of leadership had to be researched and keywords that exemplify ‘multiple leadership’ started emerging – aspects like alignment, trust and ecosystem came up. The team had to research further to find that one ‘unifying’ factor. 

The answer finally came from a concept called Biomimicry (innovation inspired by nature). More specifically from a school of fish. Fish (big or small) are coordinated in action and unified by purpose. They follow inbuilt methods of communication and fend for each other as a whole, never as a single individual. Success to them is a group effort and Headless Hippies started looking at a school of fish as a metaphor to ‘changemakers’. The idea finally boiled down to, ‘transform education, like a school of fish.’ 

Designing the Brand Logo and Identity

The Initiation of the idea and visuals

This insight led to the team experimenting with various visuals and they came up with the idea of ‘lead like an open book’, which means being ready to listen and being open to others’ suggestions. Why a book? It is simple, really. A book is the most important aspect of education and its imagery is synonymous to education or learning. It is one of the most recognised symbols of schooling that every young student resonates with. 

The concept coming together

The Headless Hippies team then assembled single books and took top shots (representing a single student). But, while talking about multiple leaders, the idea was to integrate the individual seamlessly into the whole. 

Integrating to make a whole

Thus, the logo mark was born. As a symbol, this is adaptable, flexible and also movable. The icons were used in badges, events and other marketing collateral.


Going back to the survey and its responses – from what was a single line in the minds of the Ashoka Changemakers team, ‘Changemakers is a network of schools’ to ‘if you want to be a Changemaker, you have to operate like a school of fish’, the narrative was transformed, in synch and a single identity was created, globally. 



Ashoka Changemakers Selected


Countries taking fowards the narrative the story of School of fish to 


implemented in Asia, North America, UAE, Latin  America, Africa, Europe